© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday’s disastrous 43-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins was brewing. The warning signs were there. But the 49ers seemed to do all they could to maximize those problems, and did little to solve them.
There are so many questions for Shanahan to answer, but two reign supreme. Why was Jimmy Garoppolo allowed to start if he was clearly not 100 percent, and if he appeared to be fine, did you not test him enough in practice? And if Ahkello Witherspoon wasn’t healthy enough to start, why was he healthy enough to play in relief in the second quarter? Why was him telling the coaching staff he could play enough evidence to put him in the game?
“We were trying to hold out, see how long we could go through with that and when Ahkello came up to us on the sidelines and said he wanted to go and wanted a shot, it gave us a little more confidence with his hamstring,” Shanahan said. “Was able to pull it off and get out of the game without tearing it. So, that was the decision on it.”
Look at that last line again: “Was able to pull it off and get out of the game without tearing it.”
If that’s a consideration, don’t play him. Don’t have him active. Or if you don’t care, just start him in the first place.
You don’t let a player decide, ‘Oh we’re down by 21 points? I’m good to go now coach.’ No part of of that decision-making process is reasonable.
Clearly, this team is not right, and some of that lies on Shanahan’s shoulders. They did not have contact drills during training camp due to injuries, but it’s Week 5 and Shanahan said after Sunday, “I saw some guys get tired that made it really tough to throw the ball there for the second half.”
It’s Week 5 and the team isn’t conditioned properly. Much of that is the fault of the NFL for an egregiously short preseason, but every team is dealing with the same disadvantaged situation. More concerning than that is the overwhelming lack of communication between the quarterback and offensive line and offensive line within itself.
C.J. Beathard said the 49ers have to get back to “the basics” of communicating protections, which is to say, they have to communicate protections. That’s something they, as the reigning NFC Champions, are not doing, and it’s why they allowed five sacks and 11 quarterback hits on Sunday to a Miami Dolphins team which had nine sacks entering the game
“We’ve just got to get back to the fundamentals, the basics of communicating the protections and getting it to the backs, the tight ends, everyone that’s in protection and then executing it and getting the ball out quick when we know that pressure is coming,” Beathard said.
The first sack of the day saw Trent Williams go left when everyone else on the line went right. That’s on Williams, but it’s on the coaching staff. Shanahan has known the offensive line has been a liability for four weeks now, and not just in pass protection. When they nail a run blocking scheme, it springs Raheem Mostert loose, but far too often his forced to squeeze himself into an ever-closing area of nonexistent space only he seems able to find.
Shanahan also didn’t help his ailing quarterback. He abandoned the running game early and failed to draw up easy looks over the short middle of the field which Garoppolo both loves to target, and which the Dolphins’ bear front frequently left open. The Dolphins’ defensive coverage and gameplan was solid, but far too often, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle were sent on deep, slow-developing patterns for a quarterback who clearly couldn’t load off his back foot nor step up in the pocket. This was a comedy of errors, and it started at the top.
Saleh is also to blame. He left Brian Allen on an island when time and time and time again, Allen was clearly unable to deal with the Dolphins’ talented receiving corps on his own. As the 49ers often do, he stuck to the same Cover-3 and Cover-4 coverages he loves, leaving Allen, in so many circumstances, to face skilled receivers like DeVante Parker and Isaiah Ford on his own.
As you’d expect, he got torched. And yet, no help. Saleh clearly declined to instruct either of his safeties to operate a bracket, or be aware that Allen would need help. The one time he did run a bracket against Mike Gesicki, it was with Tartt and Jamar Taylor, when Taylor jumped a full second too early and Gesicki had an easy 70-yard play.
This was a patchwork secondary, but Saleh did Allen no favors. That all but ended the game for the 49ers by the second quarter.
This was not the Jimmy Garoppolo we saw late in the regular season last year and his ankle is clearly a factor, but his confidence, which he said, tersely, “is fine,” does appear to be shaken.
Garoppolo could not drive off his back foot and he looked wholly unconfident in his ability to throw the ball. On three separate occasions he targeted Deebo Samuel: one a near-interception well behind and short of Samuel, one a good few yards over his head, and the last, a lollipop throw sailed again over Samuel’s head for an interception.
His confidence isn’t there because his ankle isn’t there, and it’s an injury with a propensity to linger. The only way to sort that out is to let it heal, and that might take some time; time the 49ers don’t have.
It’s not just a one-week thing, apparently. Williams seemingly doesn’t have the playbook down pat. He’s getting protections wrong and not getting the rapid, immediate push necessary for this offense to thrive. It showed again Sunday. When he knows the play call, he’s not getting beat in one-on-ones, outside of the Eagles game. His run blocking isn’t as consistent as hoped, but the main issue seems to be a lack of cohesion with guard partner Laken Tomlinson, and getting the calls right.
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) October 12, 2020
The one time he did get a lane to run through, he ripped off 37 yards. He had 11 carries for 90 yards and 3 receptions for 29 yards. He changes this offense, he just didn’t get a chance due to the Brian Allen nightmare and the inconsistent run blocking of the offense. He needs to be fed the ball far more consistently than he was Sunday for this team to have a chance to sniff the playoffs.
The one consistent, dominant force on the defensive line. He now has 3.5 sacks, and is showing each game that he’s the 49ers’ best source of pressure on the quarterback. He eats up the run game too. His stock has continued to rise, and there’s no reason to see his performances leveling off any time soon.
Fred Warner looks like the same All-Pro player he’s appeared to be all season long. Kwon Alexander has his juice back, and Dre Greenlaw is just as rangey and explosive as he was down the stretch last season. They’ve been immense in the run game and are key in preventing the 49ers from being exploited over the middle of the field. If only the pass rush and secondary could do the same.